Building of the Day: 5 Stuyvesant Avenue

Photo: The New York Architect, Vol. 4, July 1910

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: former Prudential Savings Bank, now Urban Sports and Cultural Center
Address: 5 Stuyvesant Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Vernon Avenue
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1909
Architectural Style: Beaux-Arts Classical
Architect: Daus & Otto
Other buildings by architect: Rudolph Daus – Sumner Armory on Jefferson, Bedford Stuyvesant; NY Telephone and Telegraph Building, Willoughby St. Downtown, Lincoln Club, Putnam Ave, Clinton Hill, as well as many other homes, civic and commercial buildings
Landmarked: No

The story: I’ve been curious about this building for a long time, but it wasn’t until I saw the name of this former bank on an old map, that I was able to find out more about it. Researching buildings can lead you on a twisted path sometimes. That’s what makes it both frustrating and fun. This part of Brooklyn, bordering on Bushwick, was very much in the bailiwick of German-American entrepreneurs, so it comes as no surprise that the Prudential Savings Bank was founded by a group of local German-American businessmen in 1908.

They hired one of the best German-American architectural firms of the era, Daus & Otto to design this very Classical and impressive looking bank. Rudolph L. Daus was born in Mexico, of wealthy German parents, and received his education at the prestigious L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He came back to the US in 1879 to work with two more of the most important architects in the US: Richard Morris Hunt and George B. Post. All of these men knew their way around the Classically-inspired Beaux-Art vocabulary, and went on to design some truly iconic buildings.

Daus set out his shingle in Brooklyn, in 1884, and we are lucky to still have so many of his great buildings around. He worked quite often with the Catholic Church, and one of his and Otto’s churches, the Church of Notre Dame, at 40 Morningside Drive, near 114th Street, in Manhattan, a landmark, has many similarities to this bank building, with Classical columns and pediments and a dome. The bank cost $60K to build, and is limestone and marble clad. The interior was also done in marble clad panels, with bronze and very modern faux-marble cement trimmings. It was quite ornate and gave great bank gravitas.

This building ceased being an active bank, years ago. It was grafitti covered and empty in the 1980’s era tax photo. I wasn’t able to trace its history, but saw several references to it being closed for a number of years before it was bought by the Lee family in 1994. This part of Bushwick/Bed Stuy never really recovered from the economic upheavals of the last 40 years, and large banks like this were among the first casualties. Unfortunately, for us architectural buffs, the Lee’s gutted it, according to the NY Times. They turned it into a martial arts and dance studio, but I’m not sure if it is still active. The signage is still there. I’m grateful they chose to preserve the building, and it still stands tall in this neglected corner of Bushwick/Bed Stuy. GMAP

Photo: The New York Architect, Vol. 4, July 1910

Photo: Nicholas Strini for Property Shark, 2007

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